Phone: 619-238-4900

9th Circuit dismisses lawsuit in Steinbeck royalty dispute

For generations, the literary works of John Steinbeck have been appreciated by readers in California, but the rights to the author’s legacy have been a source of dispute among his heirs for decades. In the most recent legal action, the author’s grandchildren lost an appeal against his stepdaughter. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed the ruling of a lower court that dismissed the complaint regarding royalties on the basis of a 1983 settlement agreement.

The grandchildren’s assertion that the stepdaughter had cut them out of royalties failed because the courts ruled that the existing settlement had already decided the issue. The disputes among Steinbeck’s heirs appear to have arisen because hedivided his estate among his heirs. He bequeathed the rights and income of some works to his third wife and granted the rights to other works to two sons from a previous marriage. The settlement in 1983 gave the sons higher royalty payments in exchange for shifting full control of Steinbeck’s works to his widow.

The original parties to the agreement have since passed away, but their heirs have continued to have disputes because of the ongoing commercial value of the author’s works. The situation illustrates the importance of understanding the long-term effects of a settlement before parties sign it because future legal actions will reference the terms of the settlement.

Any person with questions about the protection of intellectual property, such as patents or copyrights, could seek legal advice. An attorney familiar with business contracts and licensing agreements may be able to inform a person about rights as they exist and how to protect them from infringement. Services such as filing a lawsuit against an infringing party or negotiating a settlement when two parties have competing claims might be provided by an attorney.